Santa Cruz Mountains Climate Adaptation Project

Created: 5/24/2021 - Updated: 6/12/2021


The Santa Cruz Mountains Climate Adaptation Project was initiated to improve understanding of and capacity to reduce climate-related vulnerabilities of regionally-important habitats and species. Led by EcoAdapt, this project convened staff from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and members of the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network in a series of four workshops focused on identifying regionally-important habitats and species, discussing their vulnerability to climate change, and exploring potential adaptation options to reduce vulnerabilities and/or increase resilience to climate change. In addition to this workshop series, EcoAdapt collaborated with Pepperwood Preserve to produce customized maps of projected future climate changes and their likely impact on major vegetation associations in the region.


The Santa Cruz Mountains Climate Adaptation Project, launched in 2019, was designed to help natural resource managers and conservation practitioners understand and address climate change impacts on important habitats and species in the region. The project geography included Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo Counties. Project objectives included:

  1. Generate vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning products for habitats and species of interest;
  2. In partnership with Pepperwood Preserve, create customized data products on recent and projected future climate changes and their potential impacts on the region;
  3. Provide a framework and space for participating stakeholders to grapple with climate change impacts and how to manage resources effectively given these impacts; and
  4. Help identify practical applications and next steps for stakeholders to incorporate information into their management plans and programs and on-the-ground projects.


This project used a collaborative, expert opinion-based approach involving resource managers, conservation planners, and other stakeholders from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network. Most project activities focused around a series of four workshops:

  • Workshop 1 – Project Scoping (Spring 2019): The purpose of the workshop was to define the project boundary, identify the climate variables of interest, select the timeframe for the climate analysis, and select a suite of regionally important habitats and species (e.g., coastal redwood forests, mixed grasslands, rivers and streams, salmonids, wide-ranging mammals, butterflies, etc.).
  • Workshop 2 – Vulnerability Assessment (Fall 2019): The purpose of the workshop was to assess vulnerability of the selected habitats and species to climate change using a model developed by EcoAdapt and utilized in similar projects. Workshop participants evaluated vulnerability of each resource by discussing and ranking aspects of sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity. Participants also evaluated their confidence in these rankings based on both the extent of their knowledge and quality of available scientific information.
  • Workshops 3 & 4 – Adaptation Planning (Fall 2020): The purpose of these workshops was to develop adaptation strategies in response to habitat and species vulnerabilities. Workshops were held separately for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network, and although they accomplished similar goals the two workshops took different approaches based on the priorities of the two groups:
    • The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District workshop focused on incorporating information on climate change vulnerability into existing or planned projects as well as possible future projects, and identifying specific implementation steps for priority strategies.
    • The Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network workshop used a scenario planning approach to identify current management actions that could help reduce vulnerabilities, potential future management actions to consider, and current actions that will become maladaptive under future scenarios.

As part of this project, EcoAdapt partnered with Pepperwood Preserve to generate custom climate change projections for air temperature, precipitation, climatic water deficit, runoff, and wildfire risk. This information was then used to model projected future trends in vegetation distribution for key plant associations within the region. This information was summarized in maps and tables that can be used together with the vulnerability assessments to inform land-use planning and management activities.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The Santa Cruz Mountains Climate Adaptation Project resulted in multiple publicly available products that can be used by natural resource managers, conservation planners, and other stakeholders in the region. These include:

  1. A final report summarizing vulnerability assessment results, downscaled climate data and trends, and adaptation strategies;
  2. Climate change vulnerability assessment summaries for each of the 10 focal habitats and 9 focal species/species groups; and
  3. Resource briefs that include both vulnerability and adaptation information for habitats and closely associated species.

All products are available here.

The climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning process undertaken during this project is expected to assist the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network in identifying, prioritizing, and implementing adaptation strategies designed to minimize vulnerabilities and/or increase resilience of natural resources.


Hilberg, L. & J. Kershner. (2021). Santa Cruz Mountains Climate Adaptation Project [Case study on a project of EcoAdapt]. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated May 2021)

Project Contact(s)

Position: Senior Scientist

EcoAdapt is at the center of climate change adaptation innovation. We provide support, training, and assistance to make conservation and management less vulnerable and more Climate Savvy. Over the past 200 years, great strides have been made in the world of conservation and now all of that is at risk because of climate change. EcoAdapt is working to ensure the success of these past efforts by delivering a framework for climate adaptation.


Scale of Project
Regional / Subnational
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Land Use Planning
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Invasive / non-native species, pests
Range shifts
Species of concern
Storms or extreme weather events
Water quality
Water supply
Water temperature
Climate Type
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Capacity Building
Increase organizational capacity
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Host adaptation training or planning workshop
Create stakeholder engagement processes to develop and implement adaptation strategies
Conduct scenario planning exercise
Habitat/Biome Type
Lakes and Ponds
Rivers and Streams
Taxonomic Focus
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage